Common heart condition linked to 45% higher risk of cognitive decline

A large UK study has linked abnormal heart rhythm to cognitive decline, which is the latest in a growing body of evidence suggesting that there is a significant correlation between common heart conditions and the risk of dementia. University College London researchers looked at 4.3 million individuals on the UK’s primary electronic health record to identify 233,833 people with the common heart condition atrial fibrillation and 233,747 without it.

Through this, and taking obvious comorbidities and risk factors into account, the researchers still found a 45% increased likelihood in developing mild cognitive impairment in the cohort with new diagnoses of the heart condition who were without medical treatment for it.

“Our study showed that AF was associated with a 45% increase in the risk of MCI, and that cardiovascular risk factors and multi-comorbidity appear to associate with this outcome,” said senior author Dr Rui Providencia, professor at the Institute of Health informatics Research at UCL.

This follows a 2019 South Korean study that also found a strong link between the two conditions.

“Progression from MCI to dementia appears to be, at least partially, mediated by cardiovascular risk factors and the presence of multiple comorbidities,” Providencia said.

While many factors such as sex and other conditions like depression can impact the risk of MCI, these factors didn’t change the link the researchers found between AF and MCI. However, one factor that seemed to play a large role in mediating risk was medication.

The researchers found that for the individuals with AF that were treated with digoxin, oral anticoagulant treatment and amiodarone treatment had no greater risk of MCI than the cohort without AF. The researchers add that these findings highlight the importance of getting AF diagnosed and treated, and a confirmatory clinical trial could look deeper into this link.